Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast » Blog Archive » Good Gestalt; Or, Perceptual PuzzlingCan Be Good for the Soul

Well, this past Sunday—in which the art of Julie Fortenberry was featured, incidentally, so go check that out, if you missed it—I took a poll as to whether or not the creature below was a Rabbit or a Duck. As you can see, this spread below from Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s and Tom Lichtenheld’s Duck! Rabbit! is slightly different from the spread shown on Sunday, but it’s not much more help for the undecided:

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To be official about it all, here were my poll results (my online poll, that is; my five-year-old walked around with the book all last week, quizzing everyone she saw):

  • “Um, hello. It is obviously a RABBIT. Okay, so it can also be a duck. But look closely people! As a RABBIT, it is so much cuter! Cuteness always wins. Therefore it is a RABBIT.”
  • “I think it’s both, but I agree that the rabbit is definitely cuter.”
  • “I vote for Rabbit (he told me to).”
  • “I’m very left-to-right-oriented, so that’s a rabbit to me – rabbit ears, then head. If it were a duck, he would be facing the other way.”
  • “Duck. I can accept it as a rabbit only if I can accept that rabbits don’t have mouths.”
  • “…it looks like a Hesperornis without the scary teeth.”
  • “I vote rabbit.”
  • “I saw a rabbit.”
  • “…Rabbit. 100%.”
  • “…that duck/rabbit is messing me up.”

So, yeah, that’s six votes for Rabbit, one lone vote for Duck (I just knew John was a non-conformist), one vote for both (with Adorability Factor edging it toward Rabbit), and one vote for Hesperornis. Only at 7-Imp. Oh, and that final vote—arguably, my favorite one—for bewilderment.

Would my results had been the same if I’d asked with this classic ambiguous image from the world of cognitive illusions?

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1695094623 380 Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast Blog Archive GoodIn Rosenthal’s and Lichtenheld’s Duck! Rabbit! (a title, released by Chronicle Books this month, which has been met with happy reviews thus far), we have, as you can see here, kidlit Gestalt Psychology 101 in action. Lichtenheld’s primary image of the Rabduck (this is my own quick and very lame appellation for it) doesn’t change much in the book, but the unnamed speakers in the book, arguing fervently for their choices (“There, see? It’s flying!”; “Flying? No, it’s hopping!”), try to sway the reader with a few small additions (it’s all about context) — such as, a fish and some water for the duck (“Look, the duck is so hot, he’s getting a drink”) and a sun for the rabbit, who’s got his ears in the water (“No, the rabbit is so hot, he’s cooling off his ears”), requiring the reader to orient the book vertically.

An experiment in alternate perceptual possibilities for the picture book crowd? I love it. Don’t some of us—sometimes even in the span of twenty-four hours—imagine an endless number of possibilities in our own lives? Don’t our perceptual switches and the interpretations that are borne from them make our lives all the more interesting? And who know this better than children, I say. I could launch into Rilke and his “try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language” advice in Letters to a Young Poet, but that’d be a bit much, right? Oh, I just did. Or: Anyone else read in my interview with D.B. Johnson yesterday how what turns him off is certainty? Yeah. That.

Rosenthal and Lichtenfeld also have fun with a brief match-up at the book’s close—brachiosaurus vs. anteater—just to leave readers with more food-for-thought.

P.S. I’ll show you an optical illusion that messes me up: The Spinning Dancer. Curses! CURSES UPON HER. She makes the very hemispheres in my brain hurt. Once the left side of my brain stops arguing with the right side and I finally see her going counter-clockwise, I can’t seem to move her clockwise any more. It’s like trying to leash a dragonfly to see her move the other way again. Ergh. And then I realize thirty whole minutes have passed in my life, me watching Angelina Jolie spin.

Also: Here are more optical illusions if you have even more time to spare.

And don’t miss, speaking of perceptual madness (the good kind) and the interview with Don yesterday, the spreads from his forthcoming Escher-esque title, Palazzo Inverso, as included in that interview. Click here and here. Don’t you love it?

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Illustrations from DUCK! RABBIT! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustration © 2009 by Tom Lichtenheld. Published by Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA. Posted with permission of publisher. All rights reserved.

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